STS-124 processing flow on track through critical path

by Chris Bergin

STS-124 is continuing to push towards its end of May launch target, as approval to mate the External Tank (ET-128) with the twin Solid Rocket Boosters (SRBs) was given a green light for this coming Sunday. Discovery is also confirmed for rollover to the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) on April 28.

The April 13 mating date – confirmed by the ET/SRB Mate Review – shows the flow is currently on track through the critical path to make the May 31 launch date.

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STS-124 Latest:

While there remains the possibility the launch could slip a few days into June, the processing of the ET-128 inside the VAB has proceeded without issue since arriving behind schedule from the Michoud Assembly Facility (MAF).

‘ET-128 processing continues to go well,’ noted the latest Shuttle Stand-up/Integration report. ‘Completed the electrical checks. 17” angle and tip load is in work. ET mate is planned for Sunday, April 13. Orbiter rollover and mate on April 28.’

‘Boeing back-out inspections on the LH2 complete. LH2 Plate installation complete. LH2 Tank Siphon Screen inspection complete. LO2 Tank vented. Boeing LO2 17 inch Disconnect Flapper valve inspections, measurements, and verifications complete.

‘LO2 Plate installation complete. Flex-hose connection next. Repress will be in work Tuesday. Minor PR Repairs continue in work.’

Discovery herself is not on a critical path, as engineers finalize rollover preparations. Thermal Protection System (TPS) inspections ahead of rollover are complete, and she has now been powered down for the final time ahead of the short trip to the VAB.

‘Orbiter final power down for rollover (completed Tuesday) following switch configuration. T-0 de-mates will follow weight and CG (Center of Gravity) ops – currently scheduled for April 18.

‘LH (Left Hand) and RH (Right Hand) ADP (Air Data Probe) cycles were successfully performed yesterday,’ added Tuesday processing information. ‘Both are stowed. ADP functional checkout Tuesday.

‘MLG (Main Landing Gear) strut pressurization for flight was completed Monday. Final roll preps were worked Monday. Forward closeouts and aft platform removals/closeouts and door installation and hatch closure Tuesday.

‘The landing gear was lowered Monday to support Orbiter transfer to weight on wheels which is scheduled for 2nd shift Tuesday.’

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While the focus of attention remains on ET-128 processing in the VAB, all reports point to an ‘on schedule’ flow towards mating and rollout to Pad 39A, which follows a week later. After rollout, the next key milestones will be the two Flight Readiness Reviews (FRR) in May.

The first, the SSP (Space Shuttle Program) FRR is scheduled for May 13 and 14, which will be conducted via ‘ViTS’ – which is a Video Conference facility. The Joint Program FRR is scheduled for May 19, which will be a face-to-face meeting, hosted by Bill Gerstenmaier.

Manifest Latest:

Two more missions will be carried out this year, following the conclusion to STS-124, with Atlantis’ flagship mission to service the Hubble Space Telescope (STS-125) being conducted in October, followed by STS-126 (Endeavour) in November.

While processing schedules show the refined NET (No Earlier Than) launch dates in the respective flows for the two orbiters, the ET delivery schedule remains fluid, as the Michoud Assembly Facility (MAF) in New Orleans continue to press ahead with the production of ET-127 and ET-129.

Shuttle manager John Shannon is expected to have a better idea on the specific launch dates targets in around a month, when refined delivery dates are due from MAF. However, it is not expected that the NET dates will advance on the current schedule.

‘Had manifest meetings at the end of last week. The ET delivery schedule is still a little bit cloudy, so we did not make any decisions and do not expect to make any for at least another month,’ added the Stand-up, before again referencing the fallout of a delayed STS-125 for the Constellation Program, which is waiting on Atlantis’ launch before taking over one of the VAB High Bays and Pad 39B for Ares I-X.

“CxP (Constellation) attended the manifest discussions, as what we do with HST (Hubble) effects them at KSC,” added Shannon on the report.

The other element surrounding STS-125’s delay relates to the International Space Station (ISS) during the gap between STS-124 and STS-126 – currently set to be around five months. This could result in middeck payload changes being incorporated into STS-124, to tide the ISS over until Endeavour arrives in November.

“Mr. Shannon added that ISS Program is struggling with a large gap while SSP is doing the HST mission,” the Stand-Up notes. “They are thinking hard about what spares and other things that they need to take up on the next mission. Should expect some more middeck changes as we get closer to launch.”

Once the ET delivery dates level out, the manifest should be back on track by the time STS-119 launches – currently scheduled for February 2009 – with flows for tanks after ET-129 showing “green” or “yellow” flows.

All three orbiters are well within their respective processing flow timelines, with Endeavour – recently back from STS-123 – set to have her SSMEs (Space Shuttle Main Engines) removed on Thursday.

Also, STS-124, STS-126 and STS-119 are all expected to gain roles in the mitigation effort relating to the problematic starboard SARJ (Solar Alpha Rotary Joint). A forward plan outlining what will be carried out over the coming 10 months has been acquired, with a full article to follow soon.

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